No longer just for young gamers, immersive experiences are now being created specifically for senior adults. Tech companies like MyndVR, Viamara and Rendever are developing senior-specific virtual reality (VR) simulations meant to enhance the lives and moods of older adults.
The VR headsets allow seniors to experience a place or activity in a completely immersive way—being surrounded by a visual and audio experience. Some simulations include active sports like biking, surfing, skydiving or skiing. Others allow seniors to travel to childhood destinations or cities they’ve never before visited.
According to its website, Rendever says its mission is to, “Overcome social isolation… through the power of shared experiences.”
A key component in VR for seniors is the ability to share with a loved one. A child or grandchild can watch as the participant dives, bikes or jumps out of a plane—even if they live far away. The shared experiences are part of the joy of VR for seniors and loved ones.
The epidemic of loneliness
According to the CDC, loneliness can have detrimental effects on health. The rate of loneliness among elderly adults is alarming, in particular, and that was based on studies before the COVID-19 pandemic caused many senior living facilities and home caregivers to severely limit visitors.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation have been linked to the development of chronic disease and physical conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and others.
It’s important for anyone, but older adults in particular, to be engaged with others in a meaningful way. Prolonged isolation is now considered to shorten a person’s lifespan, making combatting feelings of loneliness a top priority by health experts.
Creating new experiences
Companies making developments in VR technology hope to tackle both the physical and mental feelings of isolation. By creating virtual worlds to explore, the loss of mobility or stagnation of surroundings may not be as acutely felt. Plus sharing their virtual explorations with loved ones can create new conversations and even a reminder of life before elder care.
The experiences created are designed with conversation and memory recovery in mind. At senior living facilities, groups initiate the shared virtual experience together, creating a space for connection.
Rendever and Viarama remain available only to senior living communities, but MyndVR can be purchased by individuals for at-home use. Their extensive library includes live entertainment performances, premiere travel destinations and active experiences.
Studies proving VR’s impact and usefulness are still limited, but some initial studies have positive results by users so far.
Caution should be used when wearing headsets. Being seated, unless necessary for the experience, can help avoid feelings of imbalance or collisions with furniture.
Virtual reality could create new exciting experiences to combat isolation, especially for those in senior living centers. Whether nostalgic, cultural or explorative, the technology could help bring fun into the lives of seniors.